Fading Friendship in the Lost Generation

Signed colophon, from Gertrude Stein, Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded (Paris: Plain Edition, 1931). Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

What creates a devestating feud between two prominent authors? Why, a book of poetry of course.

Featured at left is the signed colophon of Gertrude Stein’s book of poetry entitled Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded. Stein published the collection in 1931 as a response to George Hugnet’s poem “Enface,” creating a comic, but ultimately destructive, discourse between the two writers. While this collection sold rather successfully, in general, Stein had difficulty finding a publisher for her avant-garde works, forcing her to fund her own publishing. She created only 120 “plain” editions of the collection through a printer in Chartres, France, using Antique Montval paper and common typeface. She signed 100 copies of the book (numbered 1-100), made 18 copies for herself (numbered I – XVIII), and gave two copies to the French Government (numbered 0 and 00). The Hopkins Special Collections owns copy number 11 – which is uncut and unopened in its original glassine wrapper.

This short collection of poems represents just a fraction of Stein’s writing, but it speaks to her close association with a group of prominent Americans, otherwise known as the “Lost Generation.” As a pivotal member of this group, Stein often counseled and mentored her fellow artists, lending them advice on their writings and paintings. However, Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded underscores her tenuous relationship with mainstream success. Though many critics praised Stein’s writing, she had difficulty publishing her work and failed to gain the same level of popular recognition as some of her peers, most notably Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This piece helps to highlight her unique artistic, linguistic, and intellectual talents – ones that often went underappreciated during a time of significant creative advancement.

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